Tag Archive: vacation


We all know Japan is one of the more tradition-rich countries in Asia. For proof, one need look no further than the geisha culture, or how the Japanese go about entering a house. (No shoes, please; only ghosts wear them inside!)

But if you really want to soak up Japanese tradition, there might not be a better way than to visit an authentic onsen, a kind of spa that involves bathing in a hot spring, au naturel.

Onsens have been a part of the Japanese culture for ions. They’re the result of the country’s volcanic activity, are popular for their therapeutic qualities since many Japanese people believe that a good soak in a proper onsen heals aches, pains and diseases and are therefore a big driver of domestic tourism.

“In my opinion, a trip to Japan isn’t complete without a trip to an onsen,” said Hisae Komatsu, a travel specialist in Japan. “Try to make sure you book a hotel or ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) that has its own private onsen. The more traditional the better.”

So what do you most need to know before pampering yourself in a relaxing onsen soak? For starters, wash carefully beforehand and place your towel on your head while in the water.

Learn a few more key tips and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying this bathing ritual at any of the more than 3,000 onsens — including Lonely Planet’s Top 10 — that can be found throughout Japan.

Sometimes you have to leave home to truly appreciate it. That’s Eva Sihotang’s belief. And that’s why this Indonesia-based tour specialist is familiar with more than West Java, where she grew up.

“Being able to communicate with people from different parts of the country opens you up to experiences you wouldn’t otherwise get to enjoy,” she says.

Eva, who now resides in Bali but continues to explore the entire archipelago, thinks “living away from home has made me more enthusiastic and more culturally aware of the diversity of Indonesia, which has so many islands and so many dialects.”

Eva, an avid diver, likes to channel Jacques Cousteau and survey what’s underwater. Her favorite dive site is off the East Coast of Bali, around the USS Liberty shipwreck, the result of a Japanese torpedo strike during World War II.

“The marine life at Liberty is incredible,” Eva comments. “Especially at night. There’s something magical about it, just like traveling itself!”

As for exciting experiences on land in Indonesia, she recommends setting your compass for Gili Trawangan, the largest of Lombok’s Gili islands, about an hour by boat from Bali.

“One of the coolest things is to watch a movie at the beach cinema,” Eva adds. “The atmosphere is beyond imagination.” Do what you want there, but whatever you do, don’t miss taking a seat on the sand once the sun goes down, she says.


There was a time when honeymoons meant a week spent touring romantic Rome, or a beach in the South Pacific. Nowadays, travelers are looking farther afield.

Amanda Statham, travel editor of popular UK wedding magazine You & Your Wedding, recently revealed her ‘2012 Honeymoon Hot List.’ Among the eight trends she identified? Newlyweds’ interest in venturing East.

Who can blame them? There’s a lot to relish about celebrating your nuptials in Asia, from quiet island retreats in Thailand to luxurious ryokans (traditional inns) in Japan.

One of the most popular trips out there is Angkor for Two, which starts at three days in length and features a hot-air balloon ride over the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, a romantic champagne cruise of Tonle Sap Lake, a Buddhist monk blessing ceremony and soothing massages.

For those who’ve always been intrigued by Bali, the Island of the Gods itinerary for twosomes is a must. The adventure includes hands-on cooking classes with an expert local village chef, swimming in the crystal clear waters of secluded Pasir Putih Beach and experiencing a traditional dance performance at Uluwatu Temple.

But accommodation options could be the best part about traveling to an Asian destination as a couple. People want privacy, and in Bali and beyond, it comes in the form of stylish villas with amenities such as plunge pools and butler service.

Thousands of tourists visit the Cu Chi Tunnels everyday, an immense network of connecting underground passageways just outside of Ho Chi Minh City.

The 121 km-long complex of tunnels is where thousands of Vietnamese soldiers supporting the north hid out during the Vietnam War. Even though the tubes have been enlarged to accommodate visitors, they are still extremely claustrophobic — just wide and tall enough to walk through stooped over. They are dark. And ventilation in them is poor.

To tour the tunnels, visitors need not get down and dirty or be ready to overcome fears. Experienced guides are there to tell stories and answer questions about what happened in various ‘rooms’ underfoot.

Saigon Profile: Meet ‘Uncle Nam’, a Cu Chi Expert
Uncle Nam is one such guide. He was born in the district of Cu Chi and lived in the tunnels as a soldier and vegetable grower from 1963-1975.

For more than a decade, he called the subterranean labyrinth home. He even met his better half down there.

Uncle Nam made lots of friends in the tunnels, as well. He realized just how many friends he had when he was injured by a U.S. bomb; his comrades gave him the best seat in the house — “near the vent, where there was much more air to breathe,” he remembers.

Nowadays, the 66-year-old draws energy from the people visiting the tunnels in hopes of learning more about Vietnamese culture. He enjoys leading tours because it keeps him active and bolsters his self-worth.

“I am proud of where I come from,” says Uncle Nam. “It makes me happy to be able to contribute to my hometown.”

If visiting Cu Chi, ask for Uncle Nam. He is a delightful guide, and more than happy to show you around a place he knows well.

View of Vang Vieng, Laos

View of Vang Vieng, Laos

“I was born to Laotian parents, so I grew up hearing the language and listening to stories of the culture,” says Nouane Vorachak, a tour specialist in Laos. Six years ago she moved to Laos from France and says it was one of her best decisions ever.

Nouane now knows Laos like the back of her hand.

“I now get to introduce my beautiful country to travelers and to organize the perfect trip is my way of making dreams come true,” she reveals.

Nouane has experienced some splendid moments in this Indochina country. Her most unforgettable one was watching the sun set on the river in Vang Vieng after a long day of kayaking.

Nouane says she would next like to “cruise the majestic waters of the Malay archipelago,” Nouane says. “It’s the largest group of islands in the world and I know touring Indonesia by boat would be wonderful to see.”

Nouane is content to explore more of Laos until she is able to check that Indonesian journey off the list. She loves talking to others about what makes her home country so great.

“I always try to make the floating restaurant in Tha Ngone near Vientiane part of the itinerary,” Nouane adds. “There’s no better way to enjoy lunch than on a big raft cruising up the river.”

In addition to Vientiane, there are other stunning destinations to explore in Laos, such as Luang Prabang, widely considered the nation’s spiritual capital.

Consider Cambodia by Bicycle

Say ‘Cambodia‘ and most people nowadays instinctively think of Angkor Wat, an awe-inspiring collection of ancient temples in Siem Reap that draws millions of tourists every year.

Phan Sophea

Phan Sophea

But there’s more to this tranquil country than its famous ruins of a lost civilization, says Phan Sophea – a Cambodia-based travel specialist.

“Angkor Wat is amazing, but if you want to experience the real Cambodia, there’s no better way than to cycle from Phnom Penh to Udong, which is also steeped in history,” he says. “In fact, it was home to a succession of kings for more than 200 years, starting in the early 1600s.

“The trip to Udong offers a great look into the culture and local way of life. And along the way, you can try fishing at beautiful Ta Mok Lake.”

If anyone would know it’s Sophea, who’s passion for biking is rivaled only by his love for Cambodia. In fact, he still rates cycling around Koh Trong Island, in northeast Cambodia, as his all-time favorite adventure.

“Planting a tree at the local wat was an unforgettable experience for me,” he recalls.

As for why Sophea enjoys travel so much, the answer might surprise you.

“All credit goes to rugby,” he says. “The sport has allowed me to travel and meet people from all over the world. In turn, it created a desire in me to experience the ‘real world.’ I work in the travel industry now because I want to make the world a less foreign place and help people experience the beautiful country of Cambodia.”

But of course, exposing globetrotters to one of Southeast Asia’s most historic and bucolic destinations is not the road warrior’s only goal in life.

“My dream is to do the triathlon event in Kampot, on Cambodia’s coast,” Sophea says. “My mission is to be an ‘iron man’ one day.”

Tour to exploring Cambodia by bike, including Angkor Wat.

Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia

If you’re like me, you’ve probably thought to yourself at one point or another: You can’t look anywhere on the Internet these days without stumbling upon a ‘Top 10’ list of this, or a ‘Top 5’ rundown of that. Rankings are all the rage, no matter the topic.

To wit: Just a couple weeks ago, Reuters called out Cheapflights.com’s Top 10 Sunrise Destinations. Also this month, Conde Nast Traveler posted a story on 8 Great Family Vacations.

Tropical paradise beach of Ishigaki, Okinawa, Japan

Tropical paradise beach of Ishigaki, Okinawa, Japan

I’m not opposed to this trend. After all, most lists are easy to digest and fun to read. And so, at the risk of sounding like followers, I’ve come up with 5 Must-Visit Beach Destinations in Southeast Asia …

1. Con Dao. It’s not the most well-known beach destination in Vietnam. But it soon could be — especially now that Brangelina has vacationed here. I like the power couple’s taste. Not only is the island pristine, it’s gateway to a marine sanctuary of the highest order.

2. Koh Kood. The easternmost island in Thailand, this remote retreat has been described by The Guardian as “a fine place to do nothing.” I somewhat disagree. The speedboat ride to get there has to count for something, doesn’t it?

3. Song Saa. This secluded island, just off the coast of mainland Cambodia in Sihanoukville, translates to “The Sweethearts.” Given the romantic allure of its unspoiled white-sand beach and ultra-chic eco-resort, the name is fitting.

4. Koh Panak. Travel 20 kilometres by speedboat from Phuket and behold: a tiny island in Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay with a beach I think makes for the perfect campsite.

5. Ishigaki. As this photo (pictured) makes clear, you won’t find many coastlines as stunning — or as well-suited for honeymooners — as the one that surrounds this reef-ringed island in southern Japan.